Spoleto’s Unsung Heroes

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From music critic Lindsay Koob:

Everywhere I go, Spoleto-goers ask me about the Spoleto Festival Orchestra. They must not read the City Paper (or our blog) much. “Are they from a local high school?” “They look so young.”

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In fact, these are truly among the world’s very finest young instrumentalists. Many of them are destined for brilliant solo careers, or first-chair positions among the world’s major orchestras. Year after year, Maestro Emmanuel Villaume raves about the honor and privilege of conducting an “orchestra of virtuosos.”

Each year, Spoleto combs the nation’s finest conservatories and university music schools for the best emerging young players. Most of those who apply are graduate students or recent alumni with promising careers. Auditions (about 15 of ‘em, conducted nationwide) are rigorous and highly competitive: around 800 musicians apply annually, but only 100 or so get the final nod. Either John Kennedy (Music in Time series director) or chief music director Emmanuel Villaume (and sometimes both) is present for each tryout. (You can hear a lot more about the SFO and the audition process by listening to Patrick Sharbaugh’s podcast interview with John Kennedy here.)

For about a month, they’re America’s busiest (and maybe the best) orchestra. It’s a big feather in any player’s cap to claim Spoleto experience on their resumes. Their wide-ranging activities encompass the festival’s operas, the two orchestral concerts, the big choral-orchestral gig, plus the MiT and Intermezzi series. Every one of them spends at least six hours daily in either rehearsals or performances, not to mention constant personal practice. They work for peanuts and glory: they live in dubious luxury at the CofC dorms while they’re here, and are paid only a tiny stipend that covers little more than their food.

So the next time you see a gaggle of black-clad musicians with bags under their eyes wearily hauling their instruments down Calhoun street, take a moment to stop and smile and tell them how much their work means to you – because without them, Spoleto would be but a faint shadow of what it is. -LK

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